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What causes high blood pressure and what to do about it
What is high blood pressure (hypertension)? It is a common condition affecting the body’s arteries. What happens is the force of the blood pushing against your arteries is consistently too high, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body and in severe cases may lead to the hardening of the body’s arteries.
Blood pressure can be divided into five categories, namely:
- Normal Blood Pressure: 120/80 mm Hg or lower
- Elevated Blood Pressure: Top: 120 – 129 mm Hg Bottom: below 80 mm Hg
- Stage 1 hypertension: Top: 130 – 139 mm Hg Bottom: 80 – 89 mm Hg
- Stage 2 hypertension: Top: 140 mm Hg or higher Bottom: 90 mm Hg or higher
- Hypertensive crisis: Top: higher than 180 mm Hg Bottom: higher than 120 mm Hg
The top number is referred to as systolic blood pressure and measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The bottom number or diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in the arteries while the heart is at rest between beats.
Most people experiencing high blood pressure show no symptoms, but some people do, and these symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath
The only way to know for certain whether you are suffering from high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure measured, preferably by a medical practitioner.
What causes high blood pressure?
The exact causes of high blood pressure are unknown, but there may be several factors that play a role, for example:
The risk of high blood pressure increases with age.
Certain chronic conditions
Kidney disease, diabetes and sleep apnea are some of the conditions leading to high blood pressure.
Drinking too much alcohol
The use of alcohol has been linked to an increase in blood pressure, especially among men.
High blood pressure can be passed on from generation to generation.
High sodium levels
Too much sodium, commonly referred to as salt, may cause your body to retain water which in turn increases your blood pressure.
Lack of exercise
Inactivity may cause weight gain, an increase in weight may heighten your risk of high blood pressure. Inactive people also tend towards having higher heart rates.
Low potassium levels
Potassium plays an important role in regulating the body’s salt levels.
Being overweight causes changes in your blood vessels, your kidneys, and other parts of the body. These changes often have an effect on your blood pressure.
Pregnancy can increase your blood pressure.
Black people are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, it also develops at an earlier age in black people than in white people.
Elevated stress levels have been known to bring about temporary increases in blood pressure. This may lead to an increase in stress-related habits such as increased eating, smoking or drinking of alcohol. These factors will further increase your blood pressure.
Tobacco use or vaping
Smoking and vaping immediately increases your blood pressure for a short period. Tobacco smoking leads to damaged blood vessels as well as speeding up the process of arterial hardening.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure may lead to:
Heart attack or stroke
This is due to the hardening and thickening of the arteries due to high blood pressure.
Increased blood pressure can cause blood vessels to weaken and bulge forming an aneurysm, which may become life-threatening if it ruptures.
High blood pressure causes the heart to have to work harder to pump blood. The increased exertion causes the heart’s pumping chamber (left ventricle) to thicken. With time the chamber is no longer able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs and heart failure occurs.
High blood pressure can cause the blood vessels in the kidneys to become narrow and weak. This may lead to kidney damage.
Increased blood pressure may cause thickening, narrowing, or tearing of the blood vessels in the eye. This may lead to loss of vision.
Changes with memory and understanding
If your elevated blood pressure is left uncontrolled this may affect your ability to think, remember or learn.
Narrowed or blocked arteries may limit blood flow to the brain. This may cause a certain type of dementia to occur (vascular dementia).
What you can do to prevent or manage high blood pressure
There are many lifestyle changes you can make that will help lower your blood pressure, such as:
- Exercising thirty minutes a day, approximately five days a week.
- Stopping bad habits such as smoking.
- Eating a healthier diet. Limiting your sodium and alcohol intake.
- Trying to maintain a healthy weight.
- Managing your stress levels.
Above and beyond the previously mentioned preventative measures, some people may need to take prescribed medications.
High blood pressure is a serious problem that leads to many health complications. There is a myriad of things that causes hypertension but there are also a lot of habits you can implement to lower your blood pressure. You can manage your blood pressure through medication and healthful habits.
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